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Contribution: “Dance and handicap, how to transcend movement”, by Toute la Culture

It has become increasingly common to see physically or mentally disabled people performing in live shows. How does the audience perceive it?  Do they feel admiration, pity or do they simply react to the quality of the performance on stage? Today we are going to try to explain the approach used by choreographers, for whom this collaboration between abled and disabled people is not an act of benevolence, but rather an essential process to open people up to new horizons.

There’s nothing worse than hearing a mother telling her 13 year old daughter after a performance: “You have to clap because these artists are disabled”. I heard this phrase in 2005 after the australian James Cunningham’s “Body in Question”. This dancer and choreographer lost the use of his arm in a motorbike accident and his play is nothing but a melodramatic whine about his condition. Without a single ounce of dignity, egocentric and lacking artistic sense, his show deserves no indulgence.  

This mother’s reaction means pity and compassion, and will never change her look upon differences. Either the show is a success, or it is a failure, the fact that the characters are played by a particular set of people should not influence the final result. No disabled person looks for pity or sympathy. Whether they are born that way or have suffered an accident, whether the have a physical deformity, are in a wheelchair or are mentally different, the only thing these people demands, is to be considered as  men and women, and that “normal” people don’t consider them as handicapped. For most of them, this difference has exacerbated their sensitivity. Some have become painters or musicians after an accident, while others have understood that their singular bodies are actually a means to reveal themselves, submit their ideas or use movement in an alternative way. 

Disabled, Directors and Choreographers

There are plenty of directors and choreographers who, while sharing their knowledge and their art with the disabled, make them forget about their condition. The latter actually bring extreme depth to their performances. At the moment, Christian Rizzo teases with great subtlety blind people’s handicap in “De Quoi Tenir à l’Ombre” with the Oiseau Mouche company in Roubaix, where the venue is decorated with all the plays’ costumes. In the Théâtre de l’Entresort, Madeleine Louarn has been working for 30 years with the mentally disabled adults of the Atelier Catalyse who can’t read or write. For over three years, it has been a challenge to teach and make these professional actors understand the text of “The Birds1”, by Aristophanes, and it’s been just as much hard work on all the company’s creations, who are often scheduled at the Festival d’Automne. Attending a rehearsal is intense, as Madeleine Louarn never goes easy on them.    


Read the whole article in the report on “Handicap and Culture” on Toute la Culture (in french only).

Sophie Lesort /


(1)  “The Birds”, by Aristophanes, by the Théâtre de l’Entresort at the Quartz in Brest, on April 16th and 17th


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Photo : (C) Alain Monot